India: Imrana rape splits Muslim board

Telegraph India
The alleged rape of Imrana, a mother of five, by her father-in-law has split the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the apex decision-making body of the community, along sectarian lines.
Followers of the Hanfi school (named after Imam Abu Hanifa) are firm that the rape victim's marriage stands automatically annulled because father-son relations are "sacred", while followers of the Shafai school argue that she cannot be punished further.
In India, most of the Sunni population belongs to either of the two schools.

Board chief Maulana Rabey Nadvi, who is in Mumbai, yesterday spent a busy day trying to put a lid on the controversy. The rector of the Nadwa school of theology spoke to some senior office-bearers, wondering why the board was being dragged into a matter that should be dealt with according to criminal justice proceedings.

Word has been sent to board members not to issue statements on the Imrana rape case as it falls beyond its mandate.

The board, Nadvi said, is primarily meant to protect Shariat law in civil matters. Pri-ma facie, Imrana's case has serious criminal and legal implications that should take precedence over other matters.

Yesterday, a board member had said in Lucknow that Imrana must separate from her husband. But that was an individual view, not the board's stand.

Nadvi is of the view that fatwas in such matters lower the prestige of local panchayats and theological schools.

First, fatwas issued by theological schools have no locus standi since there is no mechanism to ensure their implementation. Secondly, those issuing fatwas lack basic information such as the sequence of events, statements, cross-examination, necessary to impart justice.

Imrana was allegedly raped by her father-in-law at Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh. The village's Islamic panchayat asked her to abandon her husband Noor Illahi but a defiant Imrana initially refused to obey the order.

Yesterday, after the Deoband school of theology said in a fatwa that Imrana's marriage with Noor Ilahi is nullified and they must split, the rape victim said in Muzaffarnagar that she and her husband would obey the order. The Deoband muftis also ruled out the possibility of Imrana marrying her father-in-law, pointing out that under Islamic law, he should face death penalty.

The lone woman board member, Begum Naseem Iqtedar Ali Khan, said in Lucknow yesterday that she agreed with the muftis' order.

But some board members feel this case should not be seen as a Muslim issue. Board member Kamal Farooqui said: "It was a heinous crime that should not have occurred in a civilised society. The culprit must be punished in the most severe manner possible. That is it. As for future of Imrana, it should be her decision." He clarified that this was his personal view.

Legal experts in the board are also asking how a rape victim's name is being bandied about when a Supreme Court verdict has strictly prohibited this.

Coming barely few months after the agreement on the model nikahnama in Bhopal and creation of parallel women, Shia and Barelvi law boards, the Imrana controversy has again shaken the fragile unity within the board.

Originally published on 28 June 2005.